Jute: the golden fibre, the pride of Bangladesh, and one of the most renowned natural fibres globally. In recent years, with the increasing demand for environmentally friendly materials and products, the popularity of jute has become even more pronounced. And so jute – the cultivation, processing and production of which makes up one of the oldest industries in Bangladesh – is not only increasingly important in the global effort for restoring the environment, but back in vogue.
Enter Baah, the exclusive Bangladeshi brand of high-quality hand-crafted designer jute and upcycled lifestyle products. This emerging online and e-commerce brand, baahstore.com, is focused on innovative design and the curation of a minimalist yet traditionally centred aesthetic. Baah has already earned a niche reputation for quality, tasteful lifestyle products and household goods such as baskets, rugs, tableware, and assorted home decor pieces. In addition, some of Baah's eco-friendly products are produced by upcycling discarded clothes. The brand's artful creations have garnered attention for combining a Bohemian feel and a homely essence that lend themselves to a simple elegance.
But the reason why Baah stands out goes beyond their quest for honouring the golden fibre. Baah's journey began in 2021 when CEO and co-founder Mirajul Huq decided to branch out from Krishti, the first e-commerce platform for rural women artisans in Bangladesh, which was founded in 2018 in partnership with iDE WEESMS. Teaming up with his spouse, Shamira Mostafa, and his sister Marina Huq, Mirajul envisioned a digital creative economy based on the production and dissemination of sustainable living goods manufactured by women artisans.
Speaking about the philosophy behind Baah, co-founder Marina Huq said, "With a workforce and our running project made up of 80% women, our company's brand philosophy is centred around the financial emancipation of rural women artisans who are bringing to life our minimalistic, Nordic-style designs."
And where does Baah stand in a market that is undergoing rapid diversification? "In an economy where marketplace e-commerce is threatened by low-quality imported goods, lack of accountability and return and delivery issues, brands like Baah are choosing to lean towards an omnichannel approach," said Marina. "In the process, we are honouring our rural craftswomen and men."
It is undeniable that the originators of Baah have gone above and beyond in their endeavours to lift up rural artisans, especially women. Their digital inclusion program Weaving Bangladesh, created in collaboration with Internet Society Foundation and Practical Action, paves the way for a holistic approach to the empowerment of rural Bangladeshi women in the digital age. Weaving Bangladesh, recently initiated, is Baah's B2B portal which gives the top 15 jute-based Fair-Trade SMEs in North Bengal direct access to the global market, where they can engage with international jute buyers. Furthermore, over the last 24 months, Baah has conducted 124 training sessions on e-commerce, Mobile Financial Services and health and safety awareness to over 2100 rural women weavers in some of the most remote corners of Bangladesh.
In this way, Baah has stayed true to their commitment to allowing SME owners and women weavers to remain in their own hometowns while engaging in sustainable, fulfilling work, instead of relocating to Dhaka or other major cities for stale, unrealized opportunities. By giving artisans the tools they need to flourish, and by ensuring that they receive a fair price, Baah is going all the way in establishing an enduring and efficient model of financial inclusion, primarily for rural women.
Through such essential initiatives, Baah is realising their vision of aligning with the 8 of the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals, namely No Poverty, Good Health and Well-Being, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Decent Work & Economic Growth, Reduced Inequalities, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Climate Action.
Other than the Baah's own brand setup, the parallel social impact project's artisans, who come from similar communities in close proximity, work in shared workspaces under the banner of the aforementioned 15 SMEs. With their top-notch traditional weaving and craft skills, these artisans are making their own way with the help of Baah. It is easy to see how Baah's small solutions are bringing about big changes.
The artisanal element of Baah's creations might make one wonder why the founders haven't leveraged the demand for niche eco-friendly products abroad. To this, co-founder Mirajul Huq says, "Of course there is a demand for our products in foreign countries. But why can we not appeal to those within Bangladesh who wish to be environmentally conscious while supporting our rural women artisans?"
And indeed, it does seem that the founders of Baah have tapped into our increasingly cosmopolitan sensibilities. "We want to reach out to those who value Bangladeshi craftsmanship over imported goods," said Mirajul Huq. "Baah is for those who are passionate about our rural artisanship, and who choose to consciously promote the cultivation of our country's golden fibre, jute."
At present, the Bangladeshi jute sector employs 30 million people. The government of Bangladesh has introduced a new jute policy which is predicated on enhancing the country's jute production capacity, diversifying the product base and enhancing export earnings. Not to mention, the global demand for eco-friendly products is on the rise, which places the market for jute in a highly favourable position.
However, a lack of market competitiveness and inadequacy in product diversification is creating the need for newer, more modern avenues through which to augment the jute industry. And it seems like Baah, with their stylish artisanal jute products, community-integrated approach and focus on sustainable e-commerce, is carving out a space at the very front of the movement.
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